A physician at the Campbell River Hospital says the public isn’t being given the information it needs in regards to COVID-19 and is questioning the Ministry of Health and Island Health’s handling of the situation, in general.
The doctor, to whom the Mirror has agreed to grant anonymity, says the amount of information the public is being given is not only seriously lacking, it’s also often inaccurate, which is going to create serious problems.
“They have the information, they’re just not sharing it, for God knows what reason,” the doctor says. “One of the reasons they’re citing is patient confidentiality – which to be honest is complete bullshit, because you can release information without it having any patient data points. To say an adult has tested positive and is isolating at home reveals nothing about the patient, but it at least gives the community a sense of awareness.”
And it’s not just the public who isn’t getting the information they need, according to the doctor.
“Even to those of us who should be on the forefront of knowledge, they’re not releasing information, and we’ve been instructed not to release information, even to each other, even if we have positive swabs on our own patients.”
The doctor says there was a conference-call-style meeting held recently that invited local physicians to ask questions about the situation, “and everyone was saying they need to know what’s going on so we can instruct our patients, because they’re coming to us for guidance, and that was shut down repeatedly from the top leadership in our geographic area, but it seemed like they were frustrated that they couldn’t release that information either and were getting instructions from higher up.
“We, as physicians on the very front line of this thing, need to know what’s in our community to be able to properly assess a respiratory patient coming in, for example, and what their risk is of having this. Is there an outbreak locally? Do we need to isolate other patients from this person who is presenting with a cough? We don’t have that information, so we just have to assume everyone who comes in might have this.”
The other reason officials are citing as a reason not to give out information, according to the doctor, “is that they don’t want to cause mass hysteria within the community, or panic, but misinformation is absolutely going to be worse. The countries who have been able to flatten their curve the best are the ones who have been giving out the most information.
“Saying that there are 12 cases on the Island is really not helpful.”
And the information that is being released, the doctor says, is well behind what’s happening on the ground.
“We knew there was a positive case in Campbell River last Thursday, because someone in our group personally had a positive swab come back,” the doctor says. “We were told that information was going to come out, and it never did. They kept reporting through Public Health and the Vancouver Island Health Authority that there were no cases on the Island, which we knew was a lie.
“We were so upset that the community was going about its business under the outright lie that there were no cases. The trust in the system is being eroded, and that’s not okay.
“I would say that because of the delay in reporting, contact tracing and testing, what the public knows and what doctors know – other than one or two select individuals – is probably two weeks behind what’s actually happening on the ground.”
And that’s bad.
“You’re infectious before symptoms come up,” the doctor says. “So by the time you know you have to isolate, you’ve already infected people, who then will infect people before they become symptomatic, and it’s just a rollercoaster that goes on and on and on, because we’re not being proactive about it. Not having information and not having people be aware as possible is only going to be dangerous and end up overwhelming our health care system, which is already overwhelmed.”
The doctor does think they’re doing the best they can with the equipment and information they have available to them, but worries that very soon their best might not be good enough.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job responding, as a community – and we’re a tight cohesive group at the hospital – but knowing that this has been coming for months, we’re not anywhere near as ready as we should be.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to be doing my job to the best of my ability and watching Public Health not do theirs to the best of their ability,” the doctor says. “On a moral level, it’s incredibly frustrating to have to watch the media, like yourself, have to try and pick up the pieces.”
The Mirror reached out to Island Health for comment, and received the following:
“The Provincial Health Officer and Minister of Health are providing daily updates on COVID-19 and this is the source of truth for accurate information regarding confirmed cases across B.C., including within Island Health.
“It is absolutely imperative that every person in every community on Vancouver Island follow the directions of the Provincial Health Officer. Follow proper hand hygiene, cough and sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue, avoid others who are unwell, and stay home when you are sick. To prevent transmission, it’s time to step up social distancing, meaning it’s time to increase the distance between people, avoid gatherings where you might have close contact with others and stay away from others if ill.”
In regards to the doctor’s assertion that the delay in reporting cases is causing harm to the public, Island Health pointed to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry’s March 17 press conference, where she pointed to a “backlog of cases that we are managing,” adding, “they will be reconciled, I hope, by the end of this week and we should have more stable numbers after that, particularly with our new testing strategy.”